2011 will introduce some
of the most beautiful
river vessels yet created.
European River Cruising 2011
The year 2011 is shaping up as a transformational time for European river cruises. Several new vessels are coming on line for the summer season, and they are the most beautiful and accommodating river boats ever built. Their highlights are staterooms with floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall sliding glass doors with a safety railing just outside -- a feature known as a "French balcony," which essentially turns the entire stateroom into an open-air balcony.
Uniworld River Cruises introduced the 164-passenger Antoinette last March. The ship was named after its interior designer, Antoinette Tollman, who says the boat "embodies the spirit of Versailles with all the comforts of modern-day living." The Antoinette is currently sailing on eight-day "Castles Along the Rhine" itineraries between Basel and Amsterdam. Her staterooms have French balconies with glass doors that can be opened and closed with the touch of a switch.
AMA Waterways just introduced the AmaVerde, a river boat that boasts all-weather private balconies in 58 of its 81 suites. This boat is offering 14-night "Magnificent Europe" itineraries from Vienna to Amsterdam.
Another popular operator, Viking River Cruises, is adding four next-generation river boats beginning with the Viking Prestige, which will set sail in August on the Danube. These new river cruisers, dubbed "Viking Longships," will have the largest riverboat suites in Europe at 445 sq. ft., as well as French balconies. The boats use a new noise- and vibration-free propulsion technology for an extra-comfortable ride. Viking River Cruises has 20 boats in Europe, and also operates Yangtze, Russia and Nile cruises – as do other major river cruise companies.
The riverboat business evolved from the tradition of packaged motorcoach tours. It was once common to travel Europe by bus, staying in a different hotel each night and spending a large part of each day riding to your next destination. But those same operators soon saw the convenience of river boats, where you unpack only once, your hotel goes with you, and much of the necessary travel happens overnight -- leaving more daylight hours for sightseeing.
One such tour company is Globus Travel. Founded in Switzerland 80 years ago, Globus became the largest coach tour company in Europe after World War II. The company began marketing to U.S. tourists in the 1950s and later moved its headquarters to Littleton, Colorado.
In 2003, the company developed Avalon Waterways, which today boasts nine river boats in Europe, built between 2006 and 2010. The newest vessel, Avalon Panorama, has beautiful staterooms with open-air balconies, flat-panel TVs, minibars, 24-hour Wi-Fi Internet access and free room service. The rooms are designed with the beds angled toward the full wall of sliding glass doors. The boat also has a library and spa with fitness center and salon services.
All river boats feature an open-air top deck for taking in the scenery as you sail along. Meals and tours are included in the cruise fare. Dinner is served by waiters, while breakfast and lunch are usually buffet style. Since food is included, that also covers any meals in a local restaurant during a shore tour. Guided tours are available almost every day, sometimes twice a day -- morning and afternoon. Special tours with unique experiences are offered periodically at an additional cost.
There are now about 100 river boats sailing the waterways of Europe from Spain to Russia, from Amsterdam to the Ukraine - many of them tailored for American tourists, with English-only tours and menus. The main navigable rivers in Europe include the Danube, Elbe, Mosel, Rhine, Rhone, Saone and Seine. The European river cruise season starts with "Tulip Time cruises" in early April and lasts through the Christmas holiday season. Most river boats go dark for the winter months starting in January.
Most lines also offer cruising in Russia on the Moscow River and the Stalin Canal from Moscow to St. Petersburg, as well as the Yangtze River in China and the Nile in Egypt.
European riverboat cruising is especially convenient for road warriors who need constant communications. If you have a "world-phone," you will have cellular service around the clock. Most modern riverboats also offer free Wi-Fi Internet access via cell networks throughout the cruise – a departure from most cruise ships, where you pay dearly for Internet access due to the need to use satellite networks.
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